Dates: 21 – 26 Sept 2019
Location: Carinthia, Austria
Small group: Maximum 25
Limited numbers, unlimited possibilities.
Price: £1800 (per person)
Based on two sharing a twin/double room
Single Supplement: £290
Double room, single occuupancy
Sing & perform with The Unthanks
Three-hour daily singing sesssions with Rachel and Becky Unthank
One-and-a-half hours of group yoga each morning designed explicitly for singers
Perform with the incredible Becky and Rachel Unthank
Outstanding accommodation in mountainous Carinthia, Austria.
Delicious healthy organic food.
Stay the banks of the cleanest lake in Europe (20°C in Sept)
All meals (and wine with dinner), transfers
All tuition with Becky and Rachel Unthank
PR performance and event
Barefoot and fancy-free
It’s so easy to be disappointed when you go on holiday, isn’t it? You save up for months, make meticulous plans and then, not long after you’ve arrived at your hotel, that familiar yet uneasy ‘make the best of it’ feeling starts to sink in. All too soon you find yourself lying on a bed of strange, plasticky-stiff bedding as a meditative combination of traffic noise and air conditioning units focuses your mind on your first major dilemma of the week. Do you risk it barefoot on that bedroom carpet?
Of course, before every Singing Holiday, Témi (the better half of Singing Holidays) and I spend months wading through shagpile (amongst other things) and vetting every location firsthand so you can arrive bare feet ready. You know you’ll be eating the best food, sleeping in a cosy bed and listening to the sweet orchestra of birdsong because we’ve already bounced on your bed, eaten the food and made alliances with a string of local nightingales. Every detail in every area has been considered so you can focus on what you love, the singing.
This is our fourth Singing Holiday with the lovely Rachel and Becky (The Unthanks) and, as ever, we think we’ve found a very special place to stay that ticks all the boxes and some. Our first three outings in 2016, 2017 and 2018 were all in Italy in stunning rural locations, however, in 2019 we thought we’d mix it up a bit and travel north to the untouched and utterly stunning Carinthia.
We’ll be staying in a bio hotel where, as the name suggests, everything you eat comes from certified organic production. Corinna and Michael’s house (Der Gralhof) has been in the family for 500 years and they’re passionate about the things we love: the environment, food, nature and, of course, music! When I was there Michael’s octogenarian father was celebrating 50 years as conductor of the local choir. Is it the pure air, the undiluted lake or that organic grub that keeps him so trim, I wondered? Whatever it is, we definitely want a slice of it!
Der Gralhof is on the banks of a glacial lake called Der Weissensee. This is no ordinary lake. Der Weissensee is the cleanest lake in Europe. So clean in fact, you can drink the water! Also, when I was there in September 2018, it was 20ºC. To say it was blissful would be an understatement. I swam out with the ducks and just breathed it all in. Magical.
Our music leaders, Becky and Rachel Unthank have been brought up on the Celtic-influenced Border ballads from Tyneside’s seafaring and industrial past and in many ways, the local, plaintive Carinthian traditional folk songs resonate with a similar simpler life from a bygone age. A life forged by struggle, hardship and solidarity.
Through their singing Rachel and Becky not only open a door on a past but they also unlock the present. Whether it’s giving singing sessions at the back of a Tyneside pub, or performing live on Jools Holland’s BBC music programme Later…with Jools Holland, they conjure up a world of simplicity and stoic, choked-back sentiment that is perhaps hard to tap into in our fast-paced modern lives.
Our five nights in Austria will run as follows: a full morning singing session with Rachel and Becky will commence with a vocal warm-up before learning a new style of music or perhaps expanding on a tradition you’ve already encountered. Either way, the singing will be fully inclusive and reading music or knowing the genre is not necessary.
Not only will there be three hours of singing with the girls every day but there will also be group bodywork sessions before breakfast with British Wheel of Yoga teacher Témi. Témi’s sessions are designed to support your singing by focusing on breath and posture.
Our Folk Singing Holiday in Carinthia will culminate in a small performance by you and The Unthanks in a stunning location. A magical atmosphere will be guaranteed as you mix with the locals and sing your way into the night.
Lie down, detox and dream
I’ve just demolished a plate of Spaghetti alle Vongole and I’m now sitting in a car park just outside Venice airport feeling tired and talking to myself. “Can I muster the energy to drive four hours north to Carinthia in Austria to recce Bio Hotel Gralhof?” I say aloud, without a hint of self-consciousness. I ponder the reasons for my exhaustion and conclude that the four-day wine tour (aka booze-up) I’ve just completed in the Veneto is the most likely culprit. “What I really need is a detox and a seven-day lie down in a dark room,” I deduce, mentally writing down my own prescription.
“Come on, this won’t do!. Singing Holidays Needs You!” I proclaim with a renewed vigour, summoning up as much Lord Kitchener as I can muster. So, off I go, tired but chuffed to bits by my dedication to the cause.
After an hour of mountain passes, I hit the Austrian border. I say ‘border’, there’s nothing to see until an official-looking geezer springs out from behind an Alpine fern. I screech to a halt, look at him, smile (nothing back) and then consider the legality of my seven cases of Valpolicella and Prosecco in the boot. Anyway, we share a few jokes and a schnapps and I’m on my way. That’s a slight exaggeration, I wind the window down saying “Si”, to which he says “passport” and then waves me on. Shame about the schnapps but, it’s probably for the best. He’s on duty after all!
Anyhoo, (still with me?) another couple of hours later and I finally reach Bio Hotel Gralhof (earlier than expected and in time for dinner). The hotel is Austrian quaint – all wood and fairytale curves. However, as I soon come to realise, it’s not all doilies and beer steins. The restaurant is a glass cube fused to the wooden exterior, glistening with a warm light that beckons you in. The rooms, newly renovated, are just brilliant. They’re contemporary but at the same time entirely in keeping with the 500-year-old age of the house. They’re also super-comfortable, meticulously clean, have fantastic modern bathrooms, lovely comfy beds and balconies overlooking the lake. It’s the sort of place I really love. It’s a hotel, but it feels like home. – only tidier and with a better shower and a much nicer view. Perfect.
Before I whizz down to dinner, I stand on my bedroom balcony for a few minutes watching a magical mist tumble down off the mountains and float over the lake. “This is looking rather good,” I think. My stomach rumbles. Not in appreciation of the view but as a digestive alarm clock reminding me to go to dinner.
Dinner is totally bio (organic) and utterly delicious. I go with the vegetarian option having also been offered beef from Michael and Corinna’s very own organic, grass-fed mountain cows. I initially feel rather sanctimonious having taken, I think, one for the team with my veggie choice. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The leek soup, the ‘carrot four ways’ main, the unbelievably delicious dessert (see photos) are knock-outs. I still mourn the beef decision a bit but then consider that, in many ways, I’ve already started on my Venice car park self-prescription. I’ve detoxed on dinner and the only thing left for me to do is to lie down on that comfy bed in my lovely dark room. Bingo.
Neusach 7, 9762
EVERYTHING was done well. Nothing was too much trouble for Alex and Temi. The whole experience was really enjoyable and left me feeling so happy.I can’t wait to go on my next singing holiday!
'A memorable holiday!'
Singing by the beautiful Weißensee with the warm and hugely talented Unthanks delivered all that I’ve come to expect from holidays with Alex and Temi: a lovely setting, infectious good humour and the pleasure of music-making led by exceptional and delightful musicians. Throw into the mix an evening performance with local singers leading to a laughter-filled exchange of songs stretching into the wee hours and I’m left with memories of one of the most joyful experiences of my musical life.
Small is beautiful
We think it’s the little things in life that matter the most. That’s why we only take small groups on our singing holidays. We want you to eat in tiny restaurants where mamma still cooks the food and stay in cosy, exquisite nests that feel like home.
We want you to get the maximum from every opportunity – from the incredibly talented professionals who teach you right through to the inspirational performance spaces that might otherwise be inaccessible.
A small group allows us to focus on the little details that can make all the difference and on you as an individual rather than just a face in the crowd. Most importantly though, a small group engenders a warmth and intimate connection between ‘friends’ who just LOVE to sing.